Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Campaigns old and new

Wonderful news that New York City has come down hard on trans fats. And bravo to Denmark for its ban.
But the battle is immense to alert the world to this sinister ingredient. We have been eating it haplessly for years. Unsuspecting. Well, why should we? And, it is not as if the food and catering world was at fault. After all, it was we who wanted to stop eating animal fats as the cholesterol panics swept the world.
How were we to know that the healthy substitute was worse by far?
And what commercial kitchen would not prefer the partially hydrogenated vegetable oil which lasts so much longer, does not go rancid, enhances food flavours and improves shelf life? A wonder oil!
Ah, but as in so many cases, if only we had known.
Our young have been devouring trans fats in their muffins and cakes and cookies and fries for years now. It omens badly for them.
The cholesterol we were trying to lower by moving to vegetable oil has done the opposite. Our cholesterol would be healthier if we were cooking with lard, it turns out.
What a catastrophe.
But the world is slow to catch on.
I phoned a couple of major catering companies and asked their buyers if they were using trans fats. "What's that?" they said.
Oh dear.

How long will it take?

Meanwhile, as the governments of the big countries push global warming to the headlines, realising at last that the situation is urgent, urgent, urgent, I think it is time for some apologies to the environmentalists of yore - who have been on this bandwagon for decades.
These brave, outspoken and erudite people have been victims of a long-term smear campaign by the corporate interests of the right. They have been dismissed as "greenies" and "hippies" and "lefties"... But they have been right all along.
Even now they gain no credit for their work in trying to spread the word.
Fortunately, gaining credit was never their motive. It was always the planet. So, as one of them, I think I speak for many in saying one can only be glad that the world at last is taking notice, albeit rather late in the global day.
Now we just need to work together!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Chaplain scandal

What a sublime, or perhaps obscene, irony that Prime Minister John Howard has ordained chaplains for state public schools at the same time as the Church of England is selling off properties to pay for the psychological scarring its paedophile priests inflicted on the young. The Roman Catholic church also has been immersed in similar compensation requirements.
And yet ---
Howard has put up $90 million to put God-botherers into schools - $20,000 per school - asking state governments to match the funding.
Of course, Howard has said that the chaplains don't have to be religion-specific. But who ever heard of a Muslim chaplin, a Hindu chaplain, a Buddhist chaplain...? Indeed, a chaplain is:
1. A member of the clergy attached to a chapel.
a. A member of the clergy who conducts religious services for an institution, such as a prison or hospital.
b. A member of the clergy who is connected with a royal court or an aristocratic household.
3. A member of the clergy attached to a branch of the armed forces.

We had better now add to this definition "a member of the clergy embedded among the impressionable young" - and hope that yet more accusations of paedophilia do not follow.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Australia's Islam dilemma

It is impossible to stay silent on Islamic crisis in Australia for it seems that Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali has opened a chasm so vast that we may never find compatible co-habitation between Islam and the West. While Australians shudder in shock at his words about women being deemed responsible for attacks upon them, his likening of them to pieces of meat left out for the cat, the Islamic community seems to have rallied to his side. He was treated like a rock star when he turned up at the mosque yesterday. Cheers of support for his words.
And thus does the knife slice through the prospect of cultural harmony and understanding. And we Australians find ourselves facing the distressing fact that we have invited into our country a community which openly loathes us and feels justified in abusing our women.

Until now, I have supported our Islamic community. I have moderate Muslim friends I adore, I have tried to help the local Islamic school by contributing regularly to its library, and I have always tried to explain and defend Islam among my peers.
I have, however, been increasingly disappointed in moderate Muslims for not speaking out against extremists, in showing that all Islam is not narrow, judgemental and vengeful.

What I would like them to do is to initiate an education campaign. Just as we are expected to understand where Islam is coming from, they should be teaching their young (and their men) that we are not the same. That we have rules, too. And that our rules emphasise human equality and mutual respect. However little our women wear (and I, too, disdain the Paris Hilton tarty vogue) we function by a concept of mutual consent. More importantly, perhaps, our males are creatures of self-control. They can admire and even lust after women without feeling entitled to molest them. Our society punishes men who are lacking this control. We consider it animalistic and low. They are not respected. A man of control is a real man. Strong and powerful. Also attractive to women. That is how it works in the West.
Islam needs to understand this. It must be taught, preached in Mosques - if ever we are to live together.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Vegemite redux

Well, it seems the FDA is smoothing the inky waters of the Vegemite drama.
It says it has not issued an "import alert".
But I have checked its website again - and Vegemite remains there on the undesirables list.
This would seem to mean that customs officials have not been ordered to confiscate Vegemite but it is not an approved import.
So long as the customs officials lay off the happy little Vegemite Aussies, I suppose one does not care about the FDA's unwillingness to sanction our favourite spread since, realistically, there are not enough Aussies to merit stocking supermarkets with it. I'll be checking my specialist import store in Cambridge, Mass, though - since I have always felt comforted that there are such gourmet shops at which to restock (at significant expense) if one should ever run out.

Nonetheless, this national panic has been a good thing in its way, since, with the assorted passionate petitions it spurred, it has prompted a lot of people to write paeons of praise in honour of Vegemite. Love letters to a yeast paste! You can't beat it. Makes one proud to be an Aussie.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Vegemite crisis

Vegemite has been banned by the American Food and Drug Administration. It has become an illegal import into the US.

According to NewsLtd, customs are frisking Aussies for it on entering the country.

I know Americans don't like Vegemite, but this is absurd. Americans don't eat Vegemite. Aussies eat it. Aussies eat it all the time. Aussies travel with it.
But not to America.
America has deemed it an unsafe food.
How bloody unfriendly. How bloody rude. How bloody wrong.
America, that "Supersize me" dietitic model for the world, is telling us that Vegemite, the salty yeast extract spread with all the B vitamins, is not for American toast.
Well, fellow Aussies, the only upside of this appalling piece of news is that Vegemite is not for American toast. It tastes lousy in the US. Why? Because Americans put a lot of sugar in their commercial breads - and Vegemite is not complemented by sugar. Americans eat a lot of sugar in a lot of things. You'd be amazed what carries added sugar. That is why they don't like the salty savoury taste of Vegemite. They are sweet-tooths. They can't even eat peanut butter without adding jelly to it, for heaven's sake.

Not that I am anti-American. I love America and the Americans. But I am very angry with America for making such an offensive rule on something I, and my fellow countrymen, their bloody ally, hold rather dear.

Ironically, Vegemite is now American-owned. Kraft. And the Kraft spokesperson seems disinclined to go into bat for Vegemite since it has an insignificant market in the US. And, if one reads the FDA website, one will discover that Kraft also seems to be disinclined to provide information the FDA seems to want from it in order to give Vegemite the OK.

This is seriously distressing and insulting to Australia and Australians. And baffling.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Wine in line

The wine industry is in revolt at UK suggestion that wine bottles follow the tobacco example and carry health warnings.
They say that if wine carries warnings, so should Coke and crisps.
Ah, yes. We can't trust any consumer to have the intelligence to know what is potentially harmful. Nanny has arrived to warn us all.
Sweets and cakes need labelling, too. Oooh, very nasty when taken in excess. Let her not forget to put labels on carrots. Overindulgence in carrots can be very dangerous.

Of course, raw or undercooked chicken really is very dangerous.
This knowledge has just led me to the most disasterous dinner out.
It was a Korean BBQ restaurant - with flame grillers on each table. The meats come raw and one cooks them oneself to eat with rice and delicious little salads. Very healthy.
I ordered chicken - and immediately realised I would need to be careful, ensuring each piece was thoroughly cooked. I started well with the little skewer intended for the putting and turning of the meat. But once busy eating my well-cooked chicken and supervising the next lot, I found myself turning the raw chicken with my chopsticks. Oops. Bad idea. Now I had raw chicken juice on wooden eating implements. If I tried to sterilise them they would catch fire. I put the chopsticks aside and took a fork for eating and resumed using the skewer for raw meat. Then, engaged in eating and conversation, I realised that I had started using the fork for the raw meat. Damn. But at least a fork could go over the flames and be sterilised. So I seared the fork, wiped it on my nakpkin and then, in a fit of unbelievable stupidity, continued to eat. Result: tong burns on my lip. Dessert was a glass of ice garnished with embarrassment.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Tale of a little sea lion

There it was as the tide receded, sitting in the rocky shallows, doing the what sea lions do - basking. He was just a pup.

But what an odd place to find him.
I've seen seals doing the barrel roll swim past when the tide is high along the shoreline of Encounter Bay. But this was the first Australian sea lion I'd seen. Not that they are rare in the area. They have colonies on three of the local islands. It was a little pup astray, a tired little pup.

I went down onto the reef and, keeping a 4-5 metre distance, I took some photos.
Back at the house, I kept an eye on him through the big telescope, watching him roll in the water was the tide come in, then clamber up on the reedy sand islands to bask some more. It is a fantastic telescope. I could just about count his whiskers.

As the morning wore on, walkers started to spot him. It is school holidays and the beach is quite busy - for the old reef shore that it is. It is a walking beach, not for swimmers, so it does not attract surfers and swimmers with their sun-worshipping coteries. Nonetheless, there are holidaymakers, among them packs of young people. And suddenly a group of bourgeois teen boys had spotted the pup, had rolled up their jeans and were picking their way out for, not just a good look, but a thorough poke and provoke. The young sea lion didn't like it and lunged at them, jaws open for a bite. The boys stepped back, but did not leave. They were on their mobile phones, presumably calling their friends. And friends started arriving, along with various other walkers, attracted by the growing crowd around the pup. I got my phone, too. I rang the Environment Department ranger who, fortunately, was near at hand. His arrival brought the crowd off the reef. He inspected the pup and left.

The pup was in peace, but not for long. More people "discovered" him and picked their way out onto the reef to get a close look. Close is the operative word.
People are astonishingly stupid about wildlife. It is one thing to enjoy the treat of a young sea lion basking in proximity but quite another to harass it, to poke or splash it to see a reaction. Why do people have to make things move?

Then the teen boys were back, sucking on cartons of iced coffee, standing right beside the pup in touching range. This was too much for me. I had to hurtle down to the shoreline and tell them to leave the thing alone. I felt like the mad old harridan that I, clearly, am. Fortunately, a council inspector had arrived and was assessing the situation. He went back to report to the council and the Environment blokes. I went back to the house - to watch the assorted reactions of the beach walkers to the sight of the sea lion.

Poor little chap had moved in closer, making himself yet more accessible. The worst sight I witnessed was a dad, towing his large family out to see the sea lion and then being the big brave dad, prodding it to show the kids how it could move. The pup lunged at him. I wished he had made contact.

Later, another family grouped around the creature to take photos of themselves with it. The small children started ripping up sea beads from the reef to throw at the pup. The parents did not reprove them.

There were a few good souls who inspected the pup from a respectful distance and did not try to disturb him. Not everyone is dead stupid. But too many are.
On one occasion, with about 15 people out on the reef looking at the pup, the ranger returned and I saw him sprint down the beach to tell them to keep their distance.
It was a frustrating day.

By afternoon, the pup was lying flat out and not looking too happy, or so one assumed. He had his flippers crossed over his abdomen, like a corpse, except that he was methodically rubbing his tummy with them. I wondered if he was ill.

When the ranger returned again, I went down to ask his opinion. He said he was worried the pup had been rejected by the colony. "It is that time of year," he said, sadly. "The bull sea lions are brutal with the pups and the other mothers with young are very territorial. This pup is probably recently weaned and not skilled at hunting Or he could be sick. There are a number of illnesses they suffer, including tuberculosis."
The ranger was keeping a close eye. He was worried. He already had one dead pup this season and suspected this may end up being another - to go to the museum for an autopsy.

"Some people want us to take them out and give them antibiotics, get them well and return them to the wild," he said. "The RSPCA is the only place that can do this - and we are worried about introducing antibiotics to the wild food chain. If the treated seal is eated by a shark, for instance..." I got the point. One must let nature take its course. Only the fittest survive in the wild. This could be a runty babe.

Then again, sea lions do a lot of lolling about. This also is natural behaviour in the wild.
The ranger said he would be back at first light either to remove a body or to make a decision about moving the pup to a safer place.
I went to bed worrying about the little creature out there on the reef, fearing that maybe he would die in the night.

But when the ranger came in the morning, the pup was gone.
He had returned to the sea. We think his mother came and got him. And, oh, what stories of horrible humans he had to tell her.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Old media versus the new

The delicious switcheroo has come about. I wondered how long it would be before the mainstream media stopped sneering at the contents and activities of the Internet, reporting only the standard campaign negatives of Internet scams and sins.
It has been slow. Media has seen the Internet as a threat to its secure and traditional domination of information and comment - which, indeed, is not wrong.
It has been mystified and frustrated by the difficulty of making quick profits.
It has hired rapacious dotcom coyboys as consultants and tried myriad ventures - which just didn't turn that mighty buck. And it has watched the rising empires of the online population - the free sharing of information, the dazzle of human communications, the rise and rise of individual self expression and the challenge of the new and often expert commentary in the blogsphere.
Rupert Murdoch, used to owning so much of the media, has made assorted unsuccessful forays - most recently in buying the hideous MySpace which seems to have captured a mindless mass of youth. Now we read reports of its rising dollar value as a malleable marketplace. Even the American right and the military are moving in on that territory to push their perspectives into the cracks between the babbling teen titilations. One way or another, there must be a way for the mainstream to dominate the Internet. Or so they and their teams of overpaid consultants all hope.
Meanwhile, they have, at last, started using the Internet as a resource and recognising that it IS news. In fact, they can pad out their services by reporting on what is happening online.
At first it was just columnists plagiarising the email funnies, some of which were terribly old by the time the columnists got to see them. How were these mainstream denizens to know that the Internet had been a happening thing for a decade before they even logged on? They had had their backs firmly turned on the phenomenon.
But now email is ubiquitous - a must-have. Now the world is broadband, cable, wireless...
And it grows exponentially in the sophistication of its content. So the old media now looks to the new media and cannibalises it for its own content.
Which is why we turn on the television and see, several days or weeks after we have been sent it online, the latest brilliant YouTube video or EBay oddity. We now read about bloggers and even quote them.
Ah, yes, if you can't beat it content, make it news.